<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> First February newsletter 2013

Sabra Briere

First Ward, City Council
995-3518 (home)
277-6578 (cell)

Coffee wakes some of us up

I hold office hours 7:30 to 9 am on Mondays at the Northside Grill. 

While I'm there, I meet with neighbors from all over our community to discuss the issues that concern them.  

The folks at the Northside put up with political talk early in the morning.  If you see me there, please wave, and if you have time, please, join me for coffee and a chat.  


The City Council holds a caucus meeting each Sunday prior to a Council meeting.  This meeting is an opportunity for members of Council to discuss agenda items -- and pending issues -- with each other in public view.  Members of the public are welcome to attend to bring issues to the attention of Council members.  Caucus is held in Council Chambers and starts at 7 pm.
I go to almost all Caucus meetings.


Dear Neighbors,

Dear neighbors,
As the weather goes, it’s been a time of real ups and downs.  From one of the warmest January days on record to a surprise snowfall that the weather fortune tellers just didn’t foresee, living here in Ann Arbor is sometimes one surprise after another.  I took advantage of the fog, ice, snow and rain to walk in Gallup Park.  That’s where I took the photo above, and on the web version of this newsletter.

Survey on public art

I asked you to help me understand your views on public funding for art by completing a survey.  I’ve attached the results of the survey, and if you are interested, here are the results of all the previous surveys.
Perhaps these results don’t truly reflect your views.  You can always let me know what you think – and I’ll include your thoughts in my remarks to the Council’s Public Art Task Force.

Meeting updates

The Federal government’s decisions sometimes affect local government, not just with funding allocations but also with policy changes.  Recently gun violence (that’s the current term of art) has been in the news – and as a result, President Obama has asked the vice president to look at ways to change the opportunities – by restricting ammunition, or types of weapons, or access to public places.
Rep. John Dingell is a member of the Democratic Gun Violence Prevention task force looking for solutions to gun violence, and recently held meetings with law enforcement (Police Chief Seto attended), school superintendents (Superintendent Green was invited) and elected officials.  I attended a meeting on this issue held by Rep. Dingell – along with Council member Teall, who helped organize and lead the Million Mom March on Washington in 2000.  I found the comments of other elected officials from Rep. Dingell’s district interesting and thought provoking.

Economic development is one of the budget priorities the Council identified for the next two years.  Some members of Council believe that economic development follows quality of life issues; others believe quality of life issues are dependent on economic development.  I attended a lecture and workshop on Tuesday that dealt with local investment in local economic development.  (Council members Lumm and Warpehoski attended the lecture, as did several members of the staff.)  County commissioners and County staff participated in the workshop, as well. 
At the workshop I learned that opportunities to invest in non-startup companies and non-high-tech companies exist, but haven’t been part of the vocabulary on economic development.  There are several mechanisms for local investing – including crowdfunding.  One of the local businesses that used crowdfunding to expand to a retail storefront is Sweet Heather Anne Bakery

The North Main Task Force and the Council’s Public Art Task Force continue to meet.  The North Main Task Force must complete its recommendations by July; the Public Art Task Force has been meeting once a week, but at unpredictable times, dependent upon the various schedules of the members.  These meetings are posted at City Hall on the ground floor, and are also on the electronic calendar.
Click this link to learn more about (or to follow) the North Main Task Force and its subcommittees.

Smoke Detectors and rental inspections

The news has recently carried some articles about house fires and certificates of occupancy, which the City calls ‘certificates of compliance.’  I was one of several council members who asked questions about smoke detectors, rental housing inspections, and whether our ordinances are sufficiently effective.  I learned that the City has been reviewing the inspection process for the last several months, and is currently reviewing the ordinance on rental housing inspections to determine if they are up-to-date and effective.  (Sometimes ordinances were drafted to meet one set of state mandated guidelines, but guidelines may change.)  The ordinance on housing inspections was last revised in January, 2005.
I also learned more about smoke detectors than I had anticipated.  As is true for many of us, I had a smoke detector that was already installed when we bought the house, over 25 years ago.  And more than once it turned out to be an ‘oven cleaning’ detector, or ‘turkey cooking’ detector.  It seemed to confuse the heat and steam that comes from cooking for indications of fire.  I learned that there are two types of smoke detector now – and as a result, we just bought a photoelectric smoke detector – which looks for changes in the light due to smoke.  What made the difference?  I read this article – and so did my spouse.

To give me your feedback on any issue, just send me mail or call me (995-3518 at home; 277-6578 to my cell).

On the Agenda

I relish a simple agenda, but I cannot really anticipate which topics will garner the most attention.  At the last Council meeting, one of the items I highlighted in the newsletter (fee increases for connecting to our water mains and waste water system) became the focus of a great deal of Council discussion.  The item was defeated.  Sometimes the issues that I don’t think will be significant become so.

Ordinances and Public Hearings

The Council will hold a public hearing, followed by deliberation and a vote, on rezoning property on Ellsworth for a townhouse development.


The South State Street Corridor draft plan is ready for input from adjacent municipalities (South State Street, as a corridor, extends beyond the City boundary).  If the Council approves, this draft plan will be submitted to the Ann Arbor Township Planning Commission, the Barton Hills Village Long-Range Planning Committee, the Pittsfield Township Planning Commission, the Scio Township Planning Commission, the Lodi Township Planning Commission, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, and the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.  After each group reviews the plan and submits comments, the final version of the plan will come back to Council for approval as part of the City’s master plan. Since storm water and waste water are part of the City’s focus this year, there’s an ongoing study of the footing drain disconnect program and its effect on storm water.  The agenda includes a resolution to fund a part of this program (engineering design and public engagement)($968,348.00). The funds will be allocated from the Sewer Capital Budget.  The City continues to work with other municipalities whenever possible.  The agenda contains two resolutions supporting this cooperative effort: an agreement between Ann Arbor and Chelsea for information technology services, and an agreement with both Washtenaw County and AATA for information technology services.  And of course, Ann Arbor’s information technology staff win national recognition for their innovative work.  (See the coverage in The Chronicle from 2012 and 2013)

Other items: Reports that might interest you:

Attached to the agenda are three reports – the report on the work done in 2012 by the City using Street Millagedollars, the proposed plan for street maintenance during spring/summer/fall 2013, and the DDA’s financial audit.
There are a few other items on the agenda that I haven’t included in this update.  Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns about any agenda item, or are interested in some other aspect of City government.

Do you know about Code Red notifications?  The City would like to be able to alert you directly to any emergencies – weather, police, missing persons, etc.  If you are interested, you can learn more and decide whether to submit your name and contact information here.
Do you know about the Red Envelope that appears on many of the City’s web pages?  Sign up for the notices that interest you – in our community or in your neighborhood.  If you think you might miss important information about ongoing projects and studies in our community, sign up here.

On the Budget

I’m going to be highlighting some specific budget issues during February and March.  These are issues that the Council and the staff will be discussing as the budget for the next year is finalized, and the budget for the year after that is outlined.
At the Council retreat in December, Council members were challenged to select priorities for the next two years, identify the problem(s) that needed to be solved, and describe successful solution measures.  One of the priorities identified by the City Council is to maintain and improve the infrastructure. 

The Council members – working together – defined ‘infrastructure’ as:
Infrastructure Maintenance (in Ann Arbor) & Transportation in the Urban Core (which includes Ypsilanti, Pittsfield, Scio, Superior and Ypsilanti townships)
The problem the Council agreed to focus on is the lack of a coordinated urban core transportation plan that includes road conditions, pedestrian safety, lighting, signage, buses, and storm water management.
(The City does have alternative transportation plans, capital improvement plans, and storm water plans, but these various plans are not perfectly coordinated.)
The Council determined that they would be able to see success as a Transportation System that effectively and efficiently moves people regardless of their transportation mode.  

I know this statement seems a little unfocused.  Members of Council thought about all the different types of infrastructure, and how any problems with the infrastructure result in problems for all of us – traffic jams, floods, damaged cars, etc.  And so the Council defined transportation and infrastructure together.  The discussion included concerns about storm water being stored (temporarily) in the streets and in the parks, whether crosswalks should have consistent signage and signals – and whether marked crosswalks should only be on major streets or also on residential streets.  Issues of equity regarding new sidewalks (sidewalk gaps) remained unresolved.  The Council also discussed whether mass transit was a priority for this budget cycle, and consensus was that the City should focus on ‘urban core transportation.’
Ongoing opportunities for your input: Thursday, February 7th at the Traverwood library branch, the city staff will present information about storm water systems, and will seek your involvement in a storm water study of our neighborhoods.
The first working session of the Council that will focus on the budget is Monday, February 11th at 7 pm in the Council chambers.  The items under discussion include the Housing Commission update (affordable housing is one of the priority areas) and the Capital Improvement Plan (and this is about infrastructure!).  Right now, the agenda item includes placeholder text, but no documents.  If these areas interest you, I recommend you check here after Wednesday.

First Ward Town Hall

Council member Sumi Kailasapathy and I will host a Town Hall meeting on Tuesday, February 25th, 7 pm at the Traverwood library branch meeting room.  
The topic is Infrastructure and we hope to hear your concerns about storm water, street and sidewalk maintenance, crosswalks, parking, and public transportation.
Of course, if you have other questions, please bring those, too.


On the Horizon

The Planning Commission will meet February 5th (7 pm, City Council Chambers) to consider a proposed structure at 413 E. Huron.  The public hearing will be held just prior to Planning Commission deliberations. 

Building on the public forums from last year, the 2013 sustainability forums will focus on planning for change in the community. The series will include four events organized around four of the City’s sustainability goals (www.a2gov.org/sustainability). The events will be held monthly from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Ann Arbor District Downtown Library at 343 S. Fifth Ave. from January through April 2013. Dates and topics for the events are listed below:
Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 — Economic Vitality, including opportunities to invest in the local economy and to build a strong sense of place in the community
Thursday, March 21, 2013 — Diverse Housing, including how to meet the current and future needs of the community with changing housing demographics, such as older residents, a high rental population, and affordability

Thursday, April 18, 2013 — Transportation Options, including the transition to more fuel efficient modes of transit, such as electric vehicles, and non-motorized planning efforts in the community

The AARP, the City’s Planning staff, the Office of Services to the Aging and the Michigan Municipal League will host a symposium on AGE FRIENDLY COMMUNITIES: GREAT PLACES FOR ALL AGES on February 28th at Palmer Commons from 9 am to 4 pm.

What am I reading?

I’ve just finished Thinking Statistically, by Uri Bram.  I continue to recommend The Walkable City by Jeff Speck.  

For those interested in urban parks, the best background documents I've found are on the Project for Public Spaces website.   If you really want to dig into this subject, I recommend Life Between Buildings: using public space by Jan Gehl.  Originally published over 40 years ago, and insightful.